Is a Chinese invasion of Taiwan imminent?

Image: Zhang Kaiyv


While some calculate when the island will be invaded by Beijing, nobody knows what happens at the closed-door meetings of the CPC leadership.

Is China really about to invade the island of Taiwan, as so many top US officials seem to believe? If the answer is “yes” and the United States stands by Taiwan – as President Joe Biden has promised – we could find ourselves in a major power conflict, or even a nuclear one, in the not-too-distant future. Even if it were limited to Asia and carried out only with conventional weapons – which is not certain – such a conflict would cause human and economic damage on a much greater scale than what is seen in Ukraine today.

And if the answer is “no”, which seems at least as likely? This would not open up the prospect within the United States of cooperating with its friends and allies, as well as China itself, in order to reduce tensions in the region and possibly open a space for the launch of peaceful negotiations between Taiwan and the mainland. ? At the very least, it would eliminate the need to increase the Pentagon's budget by billions of dollars a year, as the "congressional hawks" are now advocating.

The answer to this question has huge implications for all of us. Yet political leaders in Washington don't even discuss it. On the contrary, they seem to be competing with each other to specify the year when the alleged Chinese invasion will take place and war will break out between our two countries.

2035, 2027 or 2025?

All predictions by the highest authorities about an imminent Chinese invasion of Taiwan are based on the assumption that the Chinese leadership will never allow the island to become fully independent and will therefore respond with a full-scale military attack to any such move. .

To justify these allegations, US officials regularly point to the ongoing modernization of the Chinese military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), as well as statements by senior Chinese officials that they will crush any attempt by Taiwan's "separatist elements" to obstruct the unification. By that standard, only one question remains: when will China's leaders believe the PLA is ready to invade Taiwan and crush the US forces sent to rescue the island?

Until 2021, US military officials tended to put that pivotal moment in the future, citing the considerable distance the People's Liberation Army had to travel to compete with the technological advances of US military forces. Pentagon analysts have most often predicted the year 2035 for such a deadline, the date set by President Xi Jinping for China to "fundamentally complete the modernization of national defense and the military."

That assessment, however, changed dramatically in late 2021 when the Department of Defense released its annual report on the military power of the People's Republic of China (PRC). This document highlighted an important shift in China's strategic planning: while its leaders previously saw 2035 as the year when the People's Liberation Army would become a fully modernized fighting force, they now sought to reach that key threshold in 2027, accelerating the " intelligence” of its forces (i.e., the use of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies). According to the Pentagon report, if this “new stage of modernization in 2027… [becomes a reality], it would give Beijing more credible military options in the event of an emergency in Taiwan.”

However, some Pentagon officials have suggested that the People's Liberation Army is unlikely to achieve full "intelligence" by then, which would cast doubt on its ability to dominate the US in a hypothetical battle for Taiwan. However, that hasn't stopped Republicans from using that prediction to alert Congress and ask for additional funding for weapons for a future war with China.

As Representative Mike Gallagher [a Wisconsin Republican, elected in 2017] said in 2022, when he was still a minority member of the House Armed Services Committee: “China is spending so much money on military modernization and has already accelerated its timeline to 2027 – whether that the People's Liberation Army has the capability to take over Taiwan – that we must act with a sense of urgency to deal with this threat, because it is something we have never seen in modern history.” It should be noted that he is now [as of January 2023] the chairman of the new House of Representatives Select Committee on China: the House Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

The possibility of an invasion in 2027 remained an accepted idea in US policy circles until last January, when the head of the Air Force Mobility Command, General Michael Minihan, told his troops that he thought the correct date for a future war with China was 2025. This triggered a new panic attack in Washington.

“I hope I'm wrong,” he wrote to the 50 Air Force members under his command. “My gut tells me that we will fight in 2025. Xi secured a third term and set his war council for October 2022. Taiwan's presidential elections will be held in 2024 and will provide good reason for Xi to act. Presidential elections in the United States will take place in 2024 and will offer Xi a troubled America. Leader Xi's team, motive, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.”

While his prediction was ridiculed by some analysts who doubted the People's Republic of China's ability to dominate the US by that date, General Michael Minihan was strongly supported by "anti-Chinese hawks" in Congress. "I hope he's wrong too, but I think he's right, unfortunately," said Representative Michael McCaul (Republican of Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in an interview with Fox News Sunday (on January 29, 2023).

Today, Washington remains obsessed with the date of the potential Chinese invasion. Some data now evokes the year 2024. It is strange, however, that nowhere in official circles is there a single leading figure asking the most fundamental question: does China really intend to invade Taiwan, or are we creating an unnecessary crisis?

Calculation of risks and benefits

To answer this question, one needs to study Beijing's estimates of the relative benefits and risks of such an invasion.

Let's start at the beginning. China's leaders have repeatedly said they are willing to use force as a last resort to secure Taiwan's unification with the mainland. President Xi and his top lieutenants repeat this mantra in every major speech. “Taiwan is China's Taiwan,” said Xi Jinping at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October 2022. “We will continue to work for peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity and effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force and we reserve the right to take all necessary measures.”

In addition, considerable efforts have been made to strengthen the People's Liberation Army's ability to invade the island, which is located 160 km from the Chinese mainland across the Taiwan Strait. The People's Liberation Army has greatly developed its naval armament, the People's Liberation Army's navy and, in particular, its amphibious assault component. This branch of the People's Liberation Army, for its part, has conducted numerous amphibious exercises along the Chinese coast, many of which suggest training for a possible invasion of Taiwan. According to the Pentagon's Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, 2022, these maneuvers have multiplied in recent years, with 20 of them taking place in 2021 alone.

Such exercises certainly indicate that the Chinese leadership is acquiring the capability to undertake an invasion if it deems it necessary. However, making threats and acquiring military means does not necessarily mean that they intend to act. The Chinese Communist Party's top leadership has survived relentless struggles within the party and knows how to calculate risks and rewards. Whatever their feelings towards Taiwan, they are not inclined to order an invasion that could result in China's defeat and their own squad, arrest or death.

Weighing the risks

Even under the best of circumstances, an amphibious attack on Taiwan would prove extremely difficult and dangerous. Transporting tens of thousands of People's Liberation Army troops across 160 miles of water while being constantly attacked by Taiwanese and (probably) US forces and deploying them on heavily defended beachheads could easily end in disaster.

As Russia discovered in Ukraine, it can be extremely difficult to conduct a full-scale attack in the face of fierce resistance, even in the case of a ground invasion.

Let us also not forget that the People's Liberation Army has not participated in significant armed combat since 1979, when it lost a war against Vietnam (although it has had some border skirmishes with India in recent years). Even if he managed to establish a beachhead in Taiwan, his forces would undoubtedly lose dozens of ships, hundreds of planes, and thousands of troops, with no guarantee of being able to control Taipei or other major cities.

That's exactly what happened for several "wargames” [which allow armies to simulate, in the form of a game, operations against an opponent capable of reacting] carried out in 2022 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tanks based in Washington. These simulations, conducted by figures with “various backgrounds in government, think-tanks and the military,” always began with an amphibious attack by the People's Liberation Army on Taiwan, accompanied by air and missile strikes on critical government infrastructure. But “the Chinese invasion quickly stopped,” says a CSIS summary.

“Despite massive Chinese bombing, Taiwanese ground forces are migrating to the beachhead, where the invaders are struggling to obtain supplies and move inland. Meanwhile, US submarines, bombers and fighter jets, often reinforced by Japanese self-defense forces, are rapidly crippling China's amphibious fleet. Chinese attacks on Japanese bases and US surface ships cannot change the outcome: Taiwan remains autonomous.”

Those like General Michael Minihan who predict an imminent Chinese invasion often forget to mention these rigorous assessments, but other military analysts have been less reluctant. The Pentagon's 2022 report on Chinese military power, for example, states: “An attempted invasion of Taiwan would likely overwhelm the armed forces of the People's Republic of China and provoke international intervention. Combined with the inevitable attrition of forces…these factors make an amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk for Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.”

Xi Jinping's generals and admirals have certainly conducted similar war games and reached similar conclusions. Chinese leaders are also aware of the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine and recognize that an invasion of Taiwan would automatically lead to similar sanctions. Add to that the damage that US bombers could do to China's infrastructure, and the country's economic prospects could be decimated in the coming years, likely spelling the death knell for the Chinese Communist Party. So why consider a raid?

there is no urgency

There is another factor to add. China's leaders seem to have concluded that time is on their side – that the Taiwanese people will eventually decide voluntarily to join mainland China. This approach is outlined in the recent Beijing White Paper entitled The Taiwan Question and the Reunification of China in the New Age, released last August by the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of the PRC [summary published on August 19, 2022 by Xinhua, one of the two official agencies]. According to the document, as China becomes more prosperous, Taiwanese – especially the young – will increasingly see benefits from unification, which will lessen the appeal of independence or “separatism”.

"China's development and progress, and in particular the steady increase in its economic power, technological strength and national defense capability, is an effective brake on separatist activities," the document says. “As more and more Taiwanese compatriots, especially young people, continue their education, start businesses, look for jobs or move to live on the mainland… Economic and personal ties between inhabitants on both sides are strengthening… between the two sides of the Strait to reunification.”

Let's not forget that this is not a short-term strategy, but one that will take years, if not decades, to complete. However, most of the content of this White Paper is not devoted to military threats – the only parts of the document that were addressed in the West – but to strengthening bilateral trade and increasing China's economic attractiveness to Taiwanese youth.

“By following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, mainland China has improved its governance and maintained long-term economic growth,” the statement reads. “As a result, mainland China's overall power and international influence will continue to grow, and its influence in Taiwanese society and its attractiveness to it will continue to grow.”

In this step-by-step approach, there is certainly recognition that military action against Taiwan could be disastrous for China. But whatever the reasoning behind this approach, it appears that China's leaders are willing to invest considerable resources in persuading the Taiwanese that reunification is in their best interest. It is unclear whether this strategy will succeed. It's certainly possible that Taiwan's preference for political autonomy outweighs its interest in mainland China's diverse economic opportunities, but if Beijing is betting so heavily on the future in this way, a military attack seems much less likely. And that's something you can't hear these days in an increasingly bellicose Washington.

consider alternatives

It is difficult for foreigners – and even more so for most Chinese – to know what is happening at the closed-door meetings of the CPC leadership in Beijing. All state secrets, the calculations of this direction regarding a possible invasion of Taiwan are probably the most closely guarded. In other words, it is entirely possible that Xi Jinping and his top lieutenants are ready to invade Taiwan at the slightest sign of independence from Taiwanese leaders, as many American officials claim. But there is no evidence in the public domain to support such an assessment, and all concrete military analysis suggests that such an undertaking would be suicidal. In other words – even if one never realizes it in the current context of frenzy in Washington – it is quite reasonable to conclude that an invasion is not likely under current circumstances.

Convinced that Beijing is ready to stage an invasion, the US is already supplying Taiwan with billions of dollars in advanced weaponry, while building its own capability to defeat China in a potential conflict. Unfortunately, this preparation for a future war in the Pacific is likely to consume an ever-increasing portion of US taxpayer money, training and planning for more and more military activities in the Pacific.

And, as Congressman Mike Gallagher and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have recently suggested – an increasingly bellicose attitude toward China should be adopted. Given the reasonable likelihood that China's leadership has decided to forgo an invasion, at least for the immediate future, does it not make sense to consider alternative policies that cost us less and make us safer?

Imagine, in fact, that we adopt a less antagonistic stance towards Beijing and seek negotiated solutions to some of the problems that divide us, including China's militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea and its provocative air and sea maneuvers around from Taiwan. Reducing tensions in the Western Pacific could, in turn, help to avoid massive increases in the Pentagon's budget, which would increase spending on national priorities such as health, education and climate action.

Michael Clare é professor at Hampshire College. Author, among other books, of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change (Metropolitan Books).

Translation: Eleutério FS Prado.

Originally posted on portal to find.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.
Click here and find how

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives